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Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice, Страница 4

Гончаров Иван Александрович - The Precipice

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s almost moved to tears. CHAPTER X Early in the morning a slight noise wakened Raisky, and he sat up to see Mark disappear through the window. He does not like the straight way, he thought, and stepped to the window. Mark was going through the park, and vanished under the thick trees on the top of the precipice. As he had no inclination to go to bed again, he put on a light overcoat and went down into the park too, thinking to bring Mark back, but he was already far below on the bank of the Volga. Raisky remained standing at the top of the precipice. The sun had not yet risen, but his rays were already gilding the hill tops, the dew covered fields were glistening in the distance, and the cool morning wind breathed freshness. The air grew rapidly warmer, giving promise of a hot day. Raisky walked on in the park, and the rain began to fall. The birds sang, as they darted in all directions seeking their morning meal, and the bees and the humble-bees hummed over the flowers. A feeling of discomfort came over Raisky. He had a long day before him, with the impressions of yesterday and the day before still strong upon him. He looked down on the unchanging prospect of smiling nature, the woods and the melancholy Volga, and felt the caress of the same cooling breeze. He went forward over the courtyard, taking no notice of the greetings of the servants or the friendly advances of the dogs. He intended to go back to his room to turn the tenseness of his mood to account as an artistic motive in his novel; but as he hurried past the old house, he noticed that the door was half open, and went in. Since his arrival he had only been here for a moment with Marfinka, and had glanced into Vera's room. Now it occurred to him to make a closer inspection. Passing through his old bedroom and two or three other rooms, he came into the corner room, then with an expression of extreme astonishment in his face he stood still. Leaning on the window-sill, so that her profile was turned towards him, stood a girl of two or three and twenty, looking with strained curiosity, as if she were following some one with her eyes, down to the bank of the Volga. He was startled by the white, almost pallid face under the dark hair, the velvet-black eyes with their long lashes. Her face, still looking anxiously into the distance, gradually assumed an indifferent expression. The girl glanced hastily over park and courtyard, then as she turned and caught sight of him, shrank back. "Sister Vera!" he cried. Her face cleared, and her eyes remained fixed on him with an expression of modest curiosity, as he approached to kiss her. She drew back almost imperceptibly, turning her head a little so that his lips touched her cheek, not her mouth, and they sat down opposite the window. Impatient to hear her voice he began: "How eagerly I have expected you, and you have stayed away so long." "Marina told me yesterday that you were here." Her voice, though not so clear as Marfinka's, was still fresh and youthful. "Grandmother wanted to send you word of my arrival, but I begged her not to tell you. When did you return? No one told me you were here." "Yesterday, after supper. Grandmother and my sister don't know I am here yet. No one saw me but Marina." She threw some white garments that lay beside her into the next room, pushed aside a bundle and brought a table to the window. Then she sat down again, with a manner quite unconstrained, as if she were alone. "I have prepared coffee," she said. "Will you drink it with me. It will be a long time before it is ready at the other house. Marfinka gets up late." "I should like it very much," he replied, following her with his eyes. Like a true artist he abandoned himself to the new and unexpected impression. "You must have forgotten me, Vera," he remarked after a pause, with an affectionate note in his voice. "No," she said, as he poured out the coffee, "I remember everything. How was it possible to forget you when Grandmother was for ever talking about you?" He would have liked to ask her question after question, but they crowded into his brain in so disconnected a fashion that he did not know where to begin. "I have already been in your room. Forgive the intrusion," he said. "There is nothing remarkable here," she said hastily, looking around as if something not intended for strange eyes might be lying about. "Nothing remarkable, quite right. What book is that?" He put out his hand for the book under her hand; she rapidly drew it away and put it behind her on the shelf. "You hide it as you used to hide the currants in your mouth. But show it me." "Do you read books that may not be seen?" he said, laughingly as she shook her head. "Heavens! how lovely she is!" he thought. And he wondered how such beauty could have lost its way in such an outlandish place. He wanted to touch some answering chord in her heart, wanted her to reveal something of her feelings, but his efforts only produced a greater coldness. "My library was in your hands?" "Yes, but later Leonid Ivanovich took it over, and I was glad to be relieved of the charge." "But he must have left you a few books?" "Oh no! I read what I liked, and then surrendered the books." "What did you like?" She looked out of the window as she answered: "A great many. I have really forgotten." "Do you care for music?" She looked at him inquiringly before she said, "Does that mean that I play myself, or like to hear music?" "Both." "I don't play, but I like to hear music, but what music is there here?" "But what are your particular tastes?" Again she looked at him inquiringly. "Do you like housekeeping, or needlework. Do you do embroidery?" "No, Marfinka likes and understands all those things." "But what do you like? A book only occupies you for a short time. You say that you don't do any needlework, but you must like something, flowers perhaps." "Flowers, yes, in the garden, but not in the house where they have to be tended. I love this corner of God's earth, the Volga, the precipice, the forest and the garden-these are the things I love," she said, looking contentedly at the prospect from the window. "What ties bind you to this little place?" She gave no answer, but her eyes wandered lovingly over the trees and the rising ground, and finally rested on the dazzling mirror of water. "It is a beautiful place," admitted Raisky, "but the view, the river bank, the hills, the forest-all these things would became tedious if they were not inhabited by living creatures which share our feelings and exchange ideas with us." She was silent. "Vera!" said Raisky after a pause. "Ah!" she said, as if she had only just heard his remarks, "I don't live alone; Grandmother, Marfinka...." "As if you shared your sympathies and thoughts with them. But perhaps you have a congenial spirit here?" Vera nodded her head. "Who is that happy individual?" he stammered, urged on by envy, terror and jealousy. "The pope's wife with whom I have been stopping," said Vera as she rose and shook the crumbs from her apron. "You must have heard of her." "The pope's wife!" he repeated. "When she is here with me we both admire the Volga, we are never tired of talking about it. Will you have some more coffee? May I have it cleared away?" "The pope's wife," he repeated thoughtfully, without hearing her question, and the smile on her lips passed unobserved. "Will you have some more coffee?" "No. Do you care for Grandmother and Marfinka?" "Whom else should I hold dear?" "Well-me," he retorted, jesting. "You too," she said, looking gaily at him, "if you deserve it." "How does one earn this good fortune?" he asked ironically. "Love, they say, is blind, gives herself without any merit, is indeed blind," she rejoined. "Yet sometimes love comes consciously, by way of confidence, esteem and friendship. I should like to begin with the last, and end with the first. So what must one do, dear sister, to attract your attention." "Not to make such round eyes as you are doing now for instance, not to go into my room-without me, not to try to find out what my likes and dislikes are...." "What pride! Tell me, Sister, forgive my bluntness: Do you pride yourself on this? I ask because Grandmother told me you were proud." "Grandmother must have her finger in everything. I am not proud. In what connection did she say I was?" "Because I have made a gift of these houses and gardens to you and Marfinka. She said that you would not accept the gift. Is that true? Marfinka has accepted on the condition that you do not refuse. Grandmother hesitated, and has not come to a final decision, but waits, it seems, to see what you will say. And how shall you decide. Will a sister take a gift from a brother?" "Yes, I accept ... but no, I can buy the estate. Sell it to me.... I have money, and will pay you 50,000 roubles for it." "I will not do it that way." She looked thoughtfully out on the Volga, the precipice, and the park. "Very well. I agree to anything you please, so long as we remain here." "I will have the deed drawn up." "Yes, thank you!" she said, stretching out both hands to him. He pressed her hands, and kissed Vera on the cheek. She returned the pressure of his hands and kissed the air. "You seem really to love the place and this old house." "And you, do you mean to stay here long?" "I don't know. It depends on circumstances-on you." "On me?" "Come over to the other house." "I will follow you. I must first put things straight here. I have not yet unpacked." The less Raisky appeared to notice Vera, the more friendly Vera was to him, although, in spite of her aunt's wishes she neither kissed him nor addressed him as "thou." But as soon as he looked at her overmuch or seemed to hang on her words, she became suspicious, careful and reserved. Her coming made a change in the quiet circle, putting everything in a different light. It might happen that she said nothing, and was hardly seen for a couple of days, yet Raisky was conscious every moment of her whereabouts and her doings. It was as if her voice penetrated to him through any wall, and as if her doings were reflected in any place where he was. In a few days he knew her habits, her tastes, her likings, all that love on her outer life. But the indwelling spirit, Vera herself, remained concealed in the shadows. In her conversation she betrayed no sign of her active imagination and she answered a jest with a gay smile, but Raisky rarely made her laugh outright. If he did her laughter broke off abruptly to give place to an indifferent silence. She had no regular employment. She read, but was never heard to speak of what she read; she did not play the piano, though she sometimes struck discords and listened to their effects. Raisky noticed that their aunt was liberal with observation and warnings for Marfinka; but she said nothing to Vera, no doubt in the hope that the good seed sown would bear fruit. Vera had moments when she was seized with a feverish desire for activity; and then she would help in the house, and in the most varying tasks with surprising skill. This thirst for occupation came on her especially when she read reproach in her aunt's eyes. If she complained that her guests were too much for her, Vera would not bring herself to assist immediately, but presently she would appear in the company with a bright face, her eyes gleaming with gaiety, and astonished her aunt by the grace and wit with which she entertained the visitors. This mood would last a whole evening, sometimes a whole day, before she again relapsed into shyness and reserve, so that no one could read her mind and heart. That was all that Raisky could observe for the time, and it was all the others saw either. The less ground he had to go on however, the more active his imagination was in seeking to divine her secret. She came over every day for a short time, exchanged greetings with her aunt and her sister, and returned to the other house, and no one knew how she passed her time there. Tatiana Markovna grumbled a little to herself, complained that her niece was moody, and shy, but did not insist. For Raisky the whole place, the park, the estate with the two houses, the huts, the peasants, the whole life of the place had lost its gay colours. But for Vera he would long since have left it. It was in this melancholy mood that he lay smoking a cigar on the sofa in Tatiana Markovna's room. His aunt who was never happy unless she was doing something, was looking through some accounts brought her by Savili; before her lay on pieces of paper samples of hay and rye. Marfinka was working at a piece of lace. Vera, as usual, was not there. Vassilissa announced visitors; the young master; from Kolchino. "Nikolai Andreevich Vikentev, please enter." Marfinka coloured, smoothed her hair, gave a tug to her fichu, and cast a glance in the mirror. Raisky shook his finger at her, making her colour more deeply. "The person who stayed one night here," said Vassilissa to Raisky, "is also asking for you." "Markushka?" asked Tatiana Markovna in a horrified tone. "Yes," said Vassilissa. Raisky hurried out. "How glad he is, how he rushes to meet him. Don't forget to ask him for the money. Is he hungry? I will send food directly," cried his aunt after him. There stepped, or rather sprang into the room a fresh-looking, well-built young man of middle height of about twenty-three years of age. He had chestnut hair, a rosy face, grey-blue keen eyes, and a smile which displayed a row of strong teeth. He laid on a chair with his hat a bunch of cornflowers and a packet carefully done up in a handkerchief. "Good-day, Tatiana Markovna; Good-day, Marfa Vassilievna," he cried. He kissed the old lady's hand, and would have raised Marfinka's to his lips, but she pulled it away, though he found time to snatch a hasty kiss from it. "You haven't been to see us for three weeks," said Tatiana Markovna, reproachfully. "I could not come. The Governor would not let me off. Orders were given to settle up all the business in the office," said Vikentev, so hurriedly that he nearly swallowed some of the words. "That is absurd; don't listen to him, Granny," interrupted Marfinka. "He hasn't any business, as he himself said." "I swear I am up to my neck in work. We are now expecting a new chief clerk, and I swear by God we have to sit up into the night." "It is not the custom to appeal to God over such trifles. It is a sin," said Tatiana Markovna severely. "What do you mean? Is it a trifle when Marfa Vassilievna will not believe me, and I, by God-" "Again?" "Is it true, Tatiana Markovna, that you have a visitor? Has Boris Pavlovich arrived? Was it he I met in the corridor? I have come on purpose-" "You see, Granny, he has come to see my cousin. Otherwise he would have stayed away longer, wouldn't he?" "As soon as I could tear myself away, I came here. Yesterday I was at Kolchino for a minute, with Mama-" "Is she well?" "Thanks for the kind thought. She sends her kind regards and begs you not to forget her nameday." "Many thanks. I only don't know whether I can come myself. I am old, and fear the crossing of the Volga." "Without you, Granny, Vera and I will not go. We, too, are afraid of crossing the Volga." "Be ashamed of yourself, Marfa Vassilievna. What are you afraid of? I will fetch you myself with our boat. Our rowers are singers." "Under no circumstances will I cross with you. You never sit quiet in the boat for a minute. What have you got alive in that handkerchief? See, Granny, I am sure it's a snake." "I have brought you a carp, Tatiana Markovna, which I have caught myself. And these are for you, Marfa Vassilievna. I picked the cornflowers here in the rye." "You promised not to pick any without me. Now you have not put in an appearance for more than two weeks. The cornflowers are all withered, and what can I do with them?" "Come with me, and we'll pick some fresh ones." "Wait," called Tatiana Markovna. "You can never sit quiet, you have hardly had time to show your nose, the perspiration still stands on your forehead, and you are aching to be off. First you must have breakfast. And you, Marfinka, find out if that person, Markushka, will have anything. But don't go yourself, send Egorka." Marfinka seized the carp's head with two fingers, but when he began to wave his tail hither and thither, she uttered a loud cry, hastily dropped him on the floor, and fled down the corridor. Vikentev hurried after, and a few moments later Tatiana Markovna heard a gay waltz in progress and a vigorous stampede, as if someone were rolling down the steps. Soon the two of them tore across the courtyard to the garden, Marfinka leading, and from the garden came the sound of chattering, singing and laughter. Tatiana Markovna shook her head as she looked through the window. Cocks, hens and ducks fled in panic, the dogs dashed barking at Marfinka's heels, the servants put their heads out of the windows of their quarters, in the garden the tall plants swayed hither and hither, the flower beds were broken by the print of flying feet, two or three vases were overturned, and every bird sought refuge in the depths of the trees. A quarter of an hour later, the two culprits sat with Tatiana Markovna as politely as if nothing had happened. They looked gaily about the room and at one another, as Vikentev wiped the perspiration from his face and Marfinka fanned her burning face with her handkerchief. "You are a nice pair," remarked Tatiana Markovna. "He is always like that," complained Marfinka, "he chased me. Tell him to sit quiet." "It wasn't my fault, Tatiana Markovna. Marfa Vassilievna told me to go into the garden, and she herself ran on in front." "He is a man. But it does not become you, who are a girl, to do these things." "You see what I have to endure through you," said Marfinka. "Never mind, Marfa Vassilievna. Granny is only scolding a little, as she is privileged to do." "What do you say, Sir?" said Tatiana Markovna, catching his words. "Come here, and since your Mama is not here, I will box your ears for you." "But, Tatiana Markovna, you threaten these things and never do them," he said, springing up to the old lady and bowing his head submissively. "Do box his ears well, Granny, so that his ears will be red for a month." "How did you come to be made of quicksilver?" said Tatiana Markovna, affectionately. "Your late father was serious, never talked at random, and even disaccustomed your mother from laughter!" "Ah, Marfa Vassilievna," broke in Vikentev. "I have brought you some music and a new novel." "Where are they?" "I left them in the boat. That's the fault of the carp. I will go and fetch them now." In a moment he was out of the door, and Marfinka would have followed if her aunt had not detained her. "What I wanted to say to you is--" she began. She hesitated a little, as if she could not make up her mind to speak. Marfinka came up to her, and the old lady smoothed her disordered hair. "What then, Granny?" "You are a good child, and obey every word of your grandmother's. You are not like Veroshka...." "Don't find fault with Veroshka, Granny!" "No, you always defend her. She does indeed respect me, but she retains her own opinion and does not believe me. Her view is that I am old, while you two girls are young, know everything, and read everything. If only she were right. But everything is not written in books," she added with a sigh. "What do you want to say to me?" asked Marfinka curiously. "That a grown girl must be a little more cautious. You are so wild, and run about like a child." "I am not always running about. I work, sew embroider, pour out tea, attend to the household. Why do you scold me, Grandmother," she asked with tears in her eyes. "If you tell me I must not sing, I won't do it." "God grant that you may always be as happy as a bird. Sing, play--" "Then, why scold me?" "I don't scold you; I only ask you to keep within bounds. You used to run about with Nikolai Andreevich-" Marfinka reddened and retired to her corner. "That is no harm," continued Tatiana Markovna. "There is nothing against Nikolai Andreevich, but he is just as wild as you are. You are my dearest child, and you will remember what is due to your dignity." Marfinka blushed crimson. "Don't blush, darling. I know that you will do nothing wrong, but for other people's sake you must be careful. Why do you look so angry. Come and let me kiss you." "Nikolai Andreevich will be here in a moment, and I don't know how to face him." Before Tatiana Markovna could answer Vikentev burst in, covered with dust and perspiration, carrying music and a book which he laid on the table by Marfinka. "Give me your hand, Marfa Vassilievna," he cried, wiping his forehead. "How I did run, with the dogs after me!" Marfinka hid her hand, bowed, and returned with dignity: _"Je vous remercie, monsieur Vikentev, vous Йtes bien amiable."_ He stared first at Marfinka, then at her aunt, and asked whether she would try over a song with him. "I will try it by myself, or in company with Grandmother." "Let us go into the park, and I will read you the new novel," he then said, picking up the book. "How could I do such a thing?" asked Marfinka, looking demurely at her aunt. "Do you think I am a child?" "What is the meaning of this, Tatiana Markovna," stammered Vikentev in amazement. "Marfa Vassilievna is unendurable." He looked at both of them, walked into the middle of the room, assumed a sugary smile, bowed slightly, put his hat under his arm, and struggling in vain to drag his gloves on his moist hands began: "_Mille pardons, mademoiselle, de vous avoir dИrangИe. Sacrebleu, ca n'entre pas. Oh mille pardons, mademoiselle_." "Do stop, you foolish boy!" Marfinka bit her lips, but could not help laughing. "Just look at him, Granny! How can anybody keep serious when he mimics Monsieur Charles so nicely?" "Stop, children," cried Tatiana Markovna, her frown relaxing into smiles. "Go, and God be with you. Do whatever you like." CHAPTER XI Raisky's patience had to suffer a hard trial in Vera's indifference. His courage failed him, and he fell into a dull, fruitless boredom. In this idle mood he drew village scenes in his sketch album-he had already sketched nearly every aspect of the Volga to be seen from the house or the cliff-and he made notes in his note books. He hoped by these occupations to free himself from his obsessing thoughts of Vera. He knew he would do better to begin a big piece of work, instead of these trifles. But he told himself that Russians did not understand hard work, or that real work demanded rude strength, the use of the hands, the shoulders and the back. He thought that in work of this kind a man lost consciousness of his humanity, and experienced no pleasures in his exertions; he shouldered his burden like a horse that seeks to ward off the whip with his tail. Rough manual labour left no place for boredom. Yet no one seeks distractions in work, but in pleasure. Work, not appearances, he repeated, oppressed by the overpowering dulness which drove him nearly mad, and created a frame of mind quite contrary to his gentle temperament. I have no work, I cannot create as do artists who are absorbed in their work, and are ready to die for it. He took his cap and strolled into the outlying parts of the town, then into the town, where he observed every passer-by, stared into the houses, down the streets, and at last found himself standing before the Koslov's house. Being told that Koslov was at the school, he inquired for Juliana Andreevna. The woman who had opened the door to him, looked at him askance, blew her nose with her apron, wiped it with her finger, and vanished into the house for good. He knocked again, the dogs barked, and then appeared a little girl, holding her finger to her mouth, who stared at him and departed. He was about to knock again, but, instead, turned to go. As he passed through the little garden he heard voices, Parisian French, and a woman's voice; he heard laughter and even a kiss. "Poor Leonti!" he whispered. "Or rather, blind Leonti!" He stood uncertain whether to go or stay, then hastened his steps, and determined to have speech with Mark. He sought distraction of some kind to rid himself of his mood of depression, and to drive away the insistent thoughts of Vera. Passing the warped houses, he left the town and passed between two thick hedges beyond which stretched on both sides vegetable gardens. "Where does the market gardener, Ephraim, live?" he asked, addressing a woman over the hedge who was working in the beds. Silently, without pausing in her work, she motioned with her elbow to a hut standing isolated in the field. As he climbed over the fence, two dogs barked furiously at him. From the door of the hut came a healthy young woman with sunburnt face and bare arms, holding a baby. She called off the dogs with curses, and asked Raisky whom he wished to see. He was looking curiously round, since he did not understand how anyone except the peasant and his wife could be living there. The hut, against which were propped spades, rakes and other tools, planks and pails, had neither yard nor fence; two windows looked out on the vegetable garden, two others on the field. In the shed were two horses, here was a pig surrounded by a litter of young, and a hen wandered around with her chickens. A little further off stood some cars and a big telega. "Does Mark Volokov live here?" asked Raisky. The woman pointed to the telega in silence. "That's his room," she said, pointing to one of the windows. "He sleeps in the telega." "At this time of day?" "He only came home this morning, probably rather drunk." Raisky approached the telega. "What do you want of him?" asked the woman. "To visit him." "Let him sleep." "Why?" "I am frightened here alone with him, and my husband won't be here yet. I hope he'll sleep." "Does he insult you?" "No, it would be wicked to say such a thing. But he is so restless and peculiar that I am afraid of him." She rocked the child in her arms, and Raisky looked curiously under the straw covering. Suddenly Mark's tangled hair and beard emerged and the woman vanished into the hut as he cried, "Fool, you don't know how to receive visitors." "Good-day! What has brought you here?" cried Mark as he crawled out of the telega and stretched himself. "A visit, perhaps." "I was taking a walk out of sheer boredom." "Bored! with two beautiful girls at home. You, an artist, and you are taking a walk out of sheer boredom. Don't your affections prosper?" he winked. "They are lovely children, especially Vera?" "How do you know my cousins, and in what way do they concern you?" asked Raisky drily. "Don't be vexed. Come into my drawing-room." "Tell me rather why you sleep in the telega. Are you playing at Diogenes?" "Yes, because I must." They entered the hut and went into a boarded compartment, where stood Mark's bed with a thin old mattress, a thin wadded bed-cover and a tiny pillow. Scattered on a shelf on the wall, and on the table lay books, two guns hung on the wall, linen and clothes were tumbled untidily on the only chair. "This is my salon, sit down on the bed, and I will sit on the chair. Let us take off our coats, for it is infernally hot. No ceremony, as there are no ladies. That's right. Do you want anything? There is nothing but milk and eggs. If you don't want any, give me a cigar." "Many thanks. I have already breakfasted, and it will presently be dinner time." "Yes! You live with your Aunt. Weren't you expelled after having harboured me in the night?" "On the contrary, she reproached me with having allowed you to go to bed without any dessert, and for not having demanded pillows." "And didn't she rail against me?" "As usual, but...." "I know it is habit and does not come from her heart. She has the best heart one can wish for, better than any here. She is bold, full of character, and with a solid understanding; now indeed her brain is weakening...." "That is your opinion? You have found someone for whom you have sympathy?" "Yes, especially in one respect. She cannot endure the Governor any more than I can. I don't know what her reasons are; his position is enough for me. We neither of us like the police; we are oppressed by them. The old lady is compelled by them to carry out all sorts of repairs; to me they pay far too much attention, find out where I live, whether I go far from the town, and whom I visit." Both fell silent. "Now we have nothing more to talk about. Why did you come here?" asked Mark. "Because I was bored." "Fall in love." Raisky was silent. "With Vera," continued Mark. "Splendid girl, and she is related to you. It must be easy for you to begin a romance with her." Raisky made an angry gesture, to which Mark replied by a burst of laughter. "Call the ancient wisdom to your help," he said. "Show outward coldness when you are inwardly consumed, indifference of manner, pride, contempt-every little helps. Parade yourself before her as suits your calling." "My calling?" "Isn't it your calling to be eccentric?" "Perhaps," remarked Raisky indifferently. "I, for instance," said Mark, "should make direct for my goal, and should be sure of victory. You may do the same, but you would do so penetrated by the conviction that you stood on the heights and had drawn her up to you, you idealist. Show that you understand your calling, and you may succeed. It's no use to wear yourself out with sighs, to be sleepless, to watch for the raising of the lilac curtain by a white hand, to wait a week for a kindly glance." Raisky rose, furious. "Ah, I have hit the bull's eye." Raisky put compulsion on himself to restrain his rage, for every involuntary expression or gesture of anger would have meant nothing less than acquiescence. "I should very well like to fall in love, but I cannot," he yawned, counterfeiting indifference. "It is unsuited to my years and doesn't cure my boredom." "Try it," teased Mark. "Let us have a wager that in a week you will be as enamoured as a young cat. And within two months, or perhaps one, you will have perpetrated so many follies that you will not know how to get away from here." "If I am, with what will you pay?" asked Raisky in a tone bordering on contempt. "I will give you my trousers or my gun. I possess only two pairs of trousers. The tailor has recovered a third pair for debt. Wait, I will try on your coat. Why, it fits as if I were poured into a mould. Try mine." "Why?" "I should like to see whether it suits you. Please try it on, do." Raisky was indulgent enough to allow himself to be persuaded, and put on Mark's worn, dirty coat. "Well, does it suit?" "It fits!" "Wear it then. You don't wear a coat long, while for me it lasts for two years. Besides, whether you are contented or not I shan't take yours off my shoulders. You would have to steal it from me." Raisky shrugged his shoulders. "Does the wager hold!" asked Mark. "What put you on to that-you will excuse me-ridiculous idea?" "Don't excuse yourself. Does it hold?" "The wager is not equal. You have no possessions." "Don't be disturbed on that account. I shall not have to pay. If my prophecy comes true, then you will pay me three hundred roubles, which would come in very conveniently." "What nonsense," said Raisky, as he stood up and reached for his cap and stick. "At the latest you will be in love in a fortnight. In a month you will be groaning, wandering about like a ghost, playing your part in a drama, or possibly in a tragedy, and ending, as all your like do, with some piece of folly. I know you, I can see through you." "But if, instead my falling in love with her, she were to fall in love with me...." "Vera! with you!" "Yes, Vera, with me." "Then I will find a double pledge, and bring it to you." "You are a madman!" said Raisky, and went without bestowing a further glance on Mark. "In one month's time I shall have won three hundred roubles," Mark cried after him. Raisky walked angrily home. "I wonder where our charmer is now," he wondered gloomily. "Probably sitting on her favourite bench, admiring the view. I will see." As he knew Vera's habits, he could say with nearly complete certainty where she would be at any hour of the day. He went over to the precipice, and saw her, as he had thought, sitting on the bench with a book in her hand. Instead of reading she looked out, now over the Volga, now into the bushes. When she saw Raisky, she rose slowly and walked over to the old house. He signed to her to wait for him, but she either did not perceive the sign, or did not wish to do so. When she reached the courtyard she quickened her steps, and disappeared within the door of the old house. Raisky could hardly control his rage. "And a stupid girl like that thinks that I am in love with her," he thought. "She has not the remotest conception of manners." In offering the wager, Mark had stirred up all the bitterness latent in him. He hardly looked at Vera when he sat opposite her at dinner. If he happened to raise his eyes, it was as if he were dazed by a flash of lightning. Once or twice she had looked at him in a kind, almost affectionate way, but his wild glance betrayed to her the agitation, of which she deemed herself to be the cause, and to avoid meeting his eyes she bent her head over her empty plate. "After dinner, I shall drive with Marfinka to the hay harvest," said Tatiana Markovna to Raisky. "Will you bestow on your meadows the honour of your presence, Sir?" "I have no inclination to go," he murmured. "Does the world go so hard with you?" asked Tatiana Markovna. "You are indeed weighed down with work." He looked at Vera, who was mixing red wine with water. She emptied her glass, rose, kissed her aunt's hand, and went out. Raisky too rose, and went to his room. His aunt, Marfinka, and Vikentev, who had just happened to turn up, drove to the hay harvest, and the afternoon peace soon reigned over the house. One man crawled into the hayrick, another in the outhouse, another slept in the family carriage itself, while others took advantage of the mistress's absence to go into the outskirts of the town. Raisky's thoughts were filled with Vera. Although he had sworn to himself to think of her no more, he could not conquer his thoughts. Where was she? He would go to her and talk it all over. He was inspired only with curiosity, he assured himself. He took his cap and hurried out. Vera was neither in the room nor in the old house; he searched for her in vain on the field, in the vegetable garden, in the thicket on the cliff, and went to look for her down along the bank of the Volga. When he found no one he turned homewards, and suddenly came across her a few steps from him, not far from the house. "Ah!" he cried, "there you are. I have been hunting for you everywhere." "And I have been waiting for you here," she returned. He felt as if he were suddenly enveloped in winter in the soft airs of the South. "You-waiting for me," he said in a strange voice, and looked at her in astonishment. "I wanted to ask you why you pursue me?" Raisky looked at her fixedly. "I hardly ever speak to you." "It is true that you rarely talk to me, but you look at me in such a wild and extraordinary fashion that it constitutes a kind of pursuit. And that is not all; you quietly follow my steps. You get up earlier than I do, and wait for me to wake, draw my curtains back, and open the window; whatever way I take in the park, and wherever I sit down, I must meet you." "Very rarely." "Three or four times a week. It would not be often and would not annoy me, quite the reverse, if it occurred without intention. But in your eyes and steps I see only one thing, the continual effort to give me no peace, to master my every glance, word and thought." He was amazed at her boldness and independence, at the freedom of her speech. He saw before him, as he imagined, the little girl who had nervously concealed herself from him for fear that her egoism might suffer through the inequality of her brains, her ideas and her education. This was a new figure, a new Vera. "What if all this exists only in your imagination?" he said undecidedly. "Don't lie to me," she interrupted. "If you are successful in observing my every footstep, my every moment, at least permit me to be conscious of the discomfort of such observation. I tell you plainly that it oppresses me; it is slavery; I feel like a prisoner." "What do you ask of me?" "My freedom." "Freedom-I am your chevalier-therefore...." "Therefore you will not leave a poor girl room to breathe. Tell me, what reason have I given you to regard me differently from any other girl?" "Beauty adores admiration; it is her right." "Beauty has also a right to esteem and freedom. Is it an apple hanging on the other side of the hedge, that every passer-by can snatch at?" "Don't agitate yourself, Vera!" he begged, taking her hands. "I confess my guilt. I am an artist, have a susceptible temperament, and perhaps abandoned myself too much to my impressions. Then I am no stranger. Let us be reconciled, Vera. Tell me your wishes, and they shall be sacredly fulfilled. I will do what pleases you, will avoid what offends you, in order to deserve your friendship." "I told you from the beginning, you remember, how you could show me your sympathy, by not observing me, by letting me go my way and taking no notice of me. Then I will come of myself, and we will fix the hours that we will spend together, reading or walking." "You ask me, Vera, to be utterly indifferent to you?" "Yes." "Not to notice how lovely you are? To look at you as if you were Grandmother. But even if I adore your beauty in silence from a distance, you would know it, and can you forbid me that? Passion may melt the surface and there may steal into your heart an affection for me. Don't let me leave you without any hope. Can you not give me any?" "I cannot!" "How can you tell? There may come a time." "No, Cousin, never." Unmanned by terror, he collected his strength to say breathlessly: "You are no longer free? You love?" She knit her brow and looked down on the Volga. "And is there any sin if I do? Will you not permit it, Cousin?" she asked ironically. "I! I, who bring you the lofty philosophy of freedom, how should I not permit you to love. Love independently of everybody, conceal nothing, fear neither Granny nor anyone else. The dawn of freedom is red in the sky, and shall woman alone be enslaved? You love. Say so boldly, for passion is happiness, and allow others at least to envy you." "I concede no one the right to call me to account; I am free." "But you are afraid of Grandmother." "I am afraid of no one. Grandmother knows it, and respects my freedom. And my wish is that you should follow her example. That is all I wanted to say," she concluded as she rose from the bench. "Yes, Vera, now I understand, and am in accord with you," he replied, rising also. "Here is my hand on it, that from to-day you will neither hear nor notice my presence." She gave her hand, but drew it rapidly back as he pressed it to his lips. "We will see," she said. "But if you don't keep your word, we will see-" "Say all you have to say, Vera, or my head will go to pieces." Vera looked long at the prospect before her before she ended with decision: "Then however dearly I love this place, I will leave it." "To go where?" "God's world is wide. Au revoir, Cousin!" A few days later Raisky got up about five o'clock. The sun was already full on the horizon, a wholesome freshness rose from garden and park, flowers breathed a deeper perfume, and the dew glittered on the grass. He dressed quickly and went out into the garden, when he suddenly met Vera. "It is not intentional, not intentional, I swear," he stammered in his first surprise. They both laughed. She picked a flower, threw it to him, and gave him her hand; and in reply to the kiss he gave she kissed him on the forehead. "It was not intentional, Vera," he repeated. "You see yourself." "I see you are good and kind." "Generous," he added. "We have not got to generosity yet," she said laughing, and took his arm. "Let us go for a walk; it's a lovely morning." He felt unspeakably happy. "What coat are you wearing?" she asked in surprise as they walked. "It is not yours." "Ah, it is Mark's." "Is he here? How did you come by his coat?" "Are you frightened? The whole house fears him like fire?" And he explained how he got the coat. She listened absently as they went silently down the main path of the garden, Vera with her eyes on the ground. Against his will he felt impelled to seek another argument with her. "You seem to have something on your mind," she began, "which you do not wish to tell." "I did wish to, but I feared the storm I might draw upon myself." "You did not wish to discuss beauty once more?" "No, no, I want to explain what my feeling for you is. I am convinced that this time I am not in error. You have opened to me a special door of your heart, and I recognise that your friendship would bring great happiness, and that its soft tones would bring colour into my dull life. Do you think, Vera, that friendship is possible between a man and a woman?" "Why not? If two such friends can make up their minds to respect one another's freedom, if one does not oppress the other, does not seek to discover the secret of the other's heart, if they are in constant, natural intercourse, and know how to respect secrets...." His eyes blazed. "Pitiless woman," he broke in. She had seen the glance, and lowered her eyes. "We will go in to Grandmother. She has just opened the window, and will call us to tea?" "One word more, Vera. You have wisdom, lucidity, decision...." "What is wisdom?" she asked mischievously. "Observation and experience, harmoniously applied to life." "I have hardly any experience." "Nature has bestowed on you a sharp eye and a clear brain." "Is not such a possession disgraceful for a girl?" "Your wholesome ideas, your cultivated speech...." "You are surprised that a drop of village wisdom should have descended on your poor sister. You would have preferred to find a fool in my place, wouldn't you, and now you are annoyed?" "No, Vera, you intoxicate me. You do indeed forbid me to mention your beauty by so much as a syllable, and will not hear why I place it so high. Beauty is the aim and at the same time the driving power of art, and I am an artist. The beauty of which I speak is no material thing, she does not kindle her fires with the glow of passionate desire alone; more especially she awakens the man in man, arouses thought, inspires courage, fertilises the creative power of genius, even when that genius stands at the culmination of its dignity and power; she does not scatter her beams for trifles, does not besmirch purity-she is womanly wisdom. You are a woman, Vera, and understand what I mean. Your hand will not be raised to punish the man, the artist, for this worship of beauty." "According to you wisdom lies in keeping these rules before one's eyes as the guiding thread of life, in which case I am not wise, I have not 'received this baptism.'" An emotion closely related to sadness shone in her eyes, as she gazed upwards for a moment before she entered the house. Raisky anxiously told himself that she was as enigmatic as night itself, and he wondered what was the origin of these foreign ideas and whether her young life was already darkened. CHAPTER XII On Sunday Tatiana Markovna had guests for the second breakfast. The covers had been removed from the purple damask-covered chairs in the reception room. Yakob had rubbed the eyes of the family portraits with a damp rag, and they appeared to look forth more sharply than on ordinary days. The freshly waxed floors shone. Yakob himself paraded in a dress coat and a white necktie, while Egorka, Petrushka and Stepka, the latter of whom had been fetched from the village and had not yet found his legs, had been put into old liveries which did not fit them and smelt of moth. The dining-room and the reception room had been fumigated just before the meal. Tatiana Markovna herself, in a silk dress and shawl, with her cap on the back of her head, sat on the divan. Near her the guests had taken their places in accordance with their rank and dignity. The place of honour was occupied by Niel Andreevich Tychkov, in a dress coat with an order, an important old gentleman whose eyebrows met in his great fat face, while his chin was lost in his cravat. The consciousness of his dignity appeared in every gesture and in his condescending speech. Next him sat the invariably modest Tiet Nikonich, also in a dress coat, with a glance of devotion for Tatiana Markovna, and a smile for all. Then followed the priest in a silk gown with a broad embroidered girdle, the councillors of the local court, the colonel of the garrison, ladies from the town; young officials who stood talking in undertones in a corner; young girls, friends of Marfinka, who timidly clasped their damp hands and continually changed colour; finally a proprietor from the neighbourhood with three half-grown sons. When the company had already been assembled for some little time at the breakfast-table, Raisky entered. He felt that he was playing the rТle of an actor, fresh to the place, making his first appearance on the provincial stage after the most varying reports had been spread about him. Tatiana Markovna introduced him as "My nephew, the son of my late niece Sfonichka," though everybody knew who he was. Several people stood up to greet him. Niel Andreevich, who expected that he would come and speak to him, gave him a friendly smile; the ladies pulled their dresses straight and glanced at the mirror; the young officials who were standing eating off their plates in the corner shifted from one foot to the other; and the young girls blushed still more and pressed their hands as if danger threatened. Raisky bowed to the assembled guests, and sat down beside his aunt on the divan. "Look how he throws himself down," whispered a young official to his neighbour. "His Excellency is looking at him." "Niel Andreevich has been wanting to see you for a long time," said Tatiana Markovna aloud, adding under her breath, "His Excellency, don't forget." In the same low tone Raisky asked who the little lady was with the fine teeth and the well-developed figure. "Shame, Boris Pavlovich," and aloud, "Niel Andreevich, Borushka has been desiring to present himself to you for a long time." Raisky was about to reply when Tatiana Markovna pressed his hand, enjoining silence. "Why have you not given me the pleasure of a visit from you before," said Niel Andreevich with a kindly air. "Good men are always welcome. But it is not amusing to visit us old people, and the new generation do not care for us, do they? And you hold with the young people. Answer frankly." "I do not divide mankind into the old and the new generation," said Raisky, helping himself to a slice of cake. "Don't hurry about eating; talk to him," whispered Tatiana Markovna. "I will eat and talk at the same time," he returned aloud. Tatiana Markovna looked confused, and turned her back on him. "Don't disturb him," continued Niel Andreevich. "Young people are like that. I am curious to know how you judge men, Boris Pavlovich." "By the impression they produce on me." "Admirable. I like you for your candour. Let us take an example. What is your opinion of me?" "I am afraid of you." Niel Andreevich laughed complacently. "Tell me why. You may speak quite plainly." "Why I am afraid of you? They say you find fault with everybody," he went on, heedless of Tatiana Markovna's efforts to interrupt. "My Grandmother tells me that you lectured one man for not having attended Mass." Tatiana Markovna went hot all over, and taking off her cap, put it down behind her. "I am glad she told you that. I like to have my doings correctly reported. Yes, I do lecture people sometimes. Do you remember?" he appealed to the young men at the door. "At your service, your Excellency," answered one of them quickly, putting one foot forward and his hands behind his back. "I once received one." "And why?" "I was unsuitably dressed." "You came to me one Sunday after Mass. I was glad to see you, but instead of appearing in a dress coat, you came in a short jacket." At this point Paulina Karpovna rustled in,

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